STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Trump left little doubt that a canceled flight for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was an act of reprisal. One day after Pelosi suggested delaying the State of the Union speech, the president called off her secret military flight to Afghanistan. Other government flights are continuing amid a partial government shutdown. Pelosi had said the State of the Union speech should be delayed because it is a high security event, and key security officials are off work or going unpaid. Needless to say, none of this addresses the substance of reopening the government or the presidential demand for a wall that triggered it. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is here for the latest version of Groundhog Day. Kelsey, good there.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: (Laughter) Hi, good morning.
INSKEEP: How did this story unfold yesterday?
SNELL: Well, we congressional reporters and people in the Capitol found out that Pelosi was going on this trip in the letter from the president saying that he was canceling the trip. And that's partially because most of the time these kinds of congressional trips, particularly to war zones like Afghanistan, are not revealed beforehand for...
INSKEEP: Security reasons.
SNELL: Absolutely. I was actually talking to one senator who's been on many of these. And he told me that he's typically told the only person he can tell about the trip is his spouse. So the president revealing that this trip was going to happen was really a surprise to a lot of people. In fact, Pelosi and the rest of the delegation headed to Afghanistan in Brussels were already on the bus to their plane when this letter went out. They had to turn back and go back to their offices. It was a total scramble.
INSKEEP: And you, reporters, or some reporters, were able to watch them get off the bus, if I'm not mistaken.
SNELL: Yes. They watched them - watched the bus leave, watched the bus come back and watched them go back to the Capitol. It was a really remarkable scene.
INSKEEP: So is the State of the Union truly, truly off?
SNELL: Well, what - they'd need to have an invitation. The president can't come and speak on the House floor where the State of the Union usually happens without an invitation from the speaker. And Speaker Pelosi essentially rescinded that. She did give the president the opportunity to submit his remarks in writing or come back after the shutdown is over. She said that she doesn't have any doubt that the federal workers who secure events like this could do the job, but they should be paid to do it.
INSKEEP: OK. So a little bit of hardball being played here. How concerned are the people around the president as this shutdown completes about four weeks here?
SNELL: Well, it's kind of a mixed bag. You have Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying that he will not vote on any spending bills to reopen the government unless the president says he'll sign them. And he's been putting that firmly in the lap of Democrats and the president to work that out. And McConnell has more or less removed himself from this negotiation altogether, but that has some moderate Republicans really concerned. We've seen bipartisan groups trying to work together to get something done. But over and over, those bipartisan groups, groups that have involved Lindsey Graham of South Carolina or Susan Collins of Maine...
INSKEEP: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
SNELL: Lamar Alexander - yeah - retiring from Tennessee - they have tried. And they say that they keep hitting a wall, and that wall is the same thing. President Trump needs to be able to sign it for the majority leader to bring a bill to the floor.
INSKEEP: Are people, other than the president, inside the administration beginning to grow alarmed about the effects of this shutdown?
SNELL: It's hard to tell, but one of the things that I think people may have noticed this week is that they're talking about bringing back IRS workers to process returns. That is an effort to blunt the impact of the shutdown. And typically, you - the negotiations have wanted some sort of big impact so...
INSKEEP: The whole point of a shutdown is to inflict pain on people.
SNELL: Right, because it makes people come to the negotiating table. So as they're trying to blunt this effect, it is making it so that the shutdown maybe doesn't have greater - the great effects that usually are a negotiating tool.
INSKEEP: Meaning the White House is realizing the political impact on the president, who is blamed by most people for this shutdown, could be getting quite serious.
SNELL: Yeah. I mean, the polls have shown that, and the White House seemed to be reacting a lot to those polls.
INSKEEP: Kelsey, good to see you. Thanks so much.
SNELL: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Kelsey Snell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.